Saturday, June 20, 2009

The US Open at Bethpage Black

The Black Course is Not Recommended for Duffers at Bethpage Black (Itinerant Golfer)

I didn't have a chance to follow the US Open from the start, but I have been able to check in and see that the competition this year is amazing:

The only things we've seen coming this week at Bethpage Black have been storm clouds, rain showers and weather delays. Ricky Barnes? No, we definitely did not see him coming.

Barnes, the 2002 U.S. Amateur champion, fired a 65 in his second round, which he started Friday afternoon and finished Saturday morning. That left him atop the U.S. Open leaderboardwhile the second half of the field — the one that includes Tiger Woods — went out to finish its second round in the afternoon with more bad weather poised to move in.

It was a record-setting performance. Barnes posted a two-round total of 132, eight under par. That broke the 36-hole Open record of 133, which Lucas Glover had tied a few minutes earlier. (Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh shot 133 in the first two rounds at Olympia Fields in 2003.)

So for now, Barnes is your unlikely U.S. Open leader. After knocking around the Nationwide tour for six years, Barnes finally punched his ticket to the PGA Tour this season. It hasn't been a breakthrough season, however. In 12 tour events, Barnes has missed the cut in six and hasn't finished better than 47th, which came last week in Memphis.

The sports industry is trying to hype Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but the leader boards are owned by the many, not the few. My time spent at the Masters this past spring (technically, it is still spring until Monday, I believe, but oh well) revealed just how incredible the talent in professional golf really is, from the top to the bottom. There are no knuckledraggers anymore. The game refines them out too quickly. Today's players are hitting shots that a duffer can only dream of.

Having never been to Bethpage Black, I checked in with the Itinerant Golfer to see what's what and the information imparted here rivals anything you'll get from someone "blogging" at CBS or Sports Illustrated:

While I was researching this course last year I discovered something that is common knowledge among residents of New York state, but not so common knowledge to non-residents. A resident of New York state is able to book a tee time using the automated phone system 7 days prior to the day they want to play. I wanted to play the Black on 8/3 so on 7/27 at 7PM I was smiling and dialing. At 7:05 I made it into the system and using my a friend Jay’s New York drivers license number I booked a tee time for Sunday 8/3 at 10:36am. So there you have it. I cheated at getting on at Bethpage Black. I did not drink beer and grill out in the numbered spots in the parking lot and I did not sleep in my car. Hell, I didnt even SEE the numbered spots in the parking lot. As far as I was concerned if I was going to spend a 6 hour round waiting to play shots on the Black, I didn’t need to spend the 12 preceding hours waiting in a parking lot to do so. I cheated and I don’t even feel bad about it.

The Black Course at Bethpage State Park is yet another A.W. Tillinghast design and yet another U.S. Open course. There is much debate about how much of the course was designed by Tillinghast and how much was done by Joesph Burbeck, the long time superintendent for the golf facility at Bethpage. I won’t go into the details of the debate here, but if you want to read more just do a Google search on Joseph Burbeck.

When the U.S. Open was held at the Black in 2002 it was the first municipal golf facility to host the event. It was a huge success that year and Tiger Woods won with a score of 3 under par. The U.S. Open will be back at the Black next year in 2009 and it will no doubt be another great championship providing the usual mix of drama and tragedy for the players.

Because the Black Course is owned by the state of New York it is a public access course which means that they run A LOT of golfers through the course each day. Also because the course is SO long, SO difficult and prohibits golf carts, the rounds can be excruciatingly long. We were told to expect a 6 hour round and that is was we were mentally prepared for. Incidentally, if you follow the traditional color coding of tee markers the ladies’ tees (red) here play 6200 yards and the regular men’s tees (white) are 6700. The championship tees (blue) play a whopping 7,468. Yikes!

And yet, we're seeing records being set this year. Tell me that it isn't because of the skills of today's players. It's not the clubs, and it's not the shoes. It's the practice and the dedication, and the unbelievable high level of fitness. There's a reason why John Daly can't compete anymore--he can't do the sit ups.

Here's another masterfully appropriated photo from the Itinerant Golfer's site:

4th Hole Bethpage Black (Itinerant Golfer)

If that doesn't scare you, nothing will. I've played a lot of golf, but fairways like this reveal my limitations. Twenty years ago, I might have been able to cowboy up and get through it, but now? No thank you. Kudos to the golfers and their ability to do so well this year. I sense a further redesign and lengthening coming on with regards to the PGA.

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